Sunday's Spanish MotoGP saw Aleix Espargaro beat Suzuki team-mate Maverick Vinales for the first time this season, in a race they both finished.
Espargaro qualified directly behind Vinales in sixth, but reversed their positions in the race by taking the chequered flag 2.6s ahead of his fellow GSX-RR rider.
Vinales is currently being pursued by Yamaha to replace reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo next season and Espargaro acknowledged it was important to get the better of the 'really talented' 21-yerar-old.
“It was important [to beat Maverick] because he did an unbelievable start to the season. Everybody wants [to sign] him in this paddock,” Espargaro said. “I can say he is really talented because I can see his data. We crash one time each this season and now we are one point apart in the championship. This means I'm doing a good job and we will keep improving.
“Maverick is a good guy,” Espargaro continued. “After we finished the race he came to say 'congratulations'. Obviously we are very happy in Suzuki. Suzuki is making progress. They've never been as close to Honda and Yamaha and they have two really hungry, professional and hard-working riders. So the atmosphere here is fantastic right now.”
Espargaro, who endured a miserable pre-season before reverting back to the 2015 chassis in Qatar, credited crew chief Tom O'Kane for Sunday's fifth place.
“Tom told me on Thursday that race day will be the hottest day of the weekend. Everybody knows that at Jerez it is so slippery after the Moto2 race, when the track temperature is high as well. So we worked with the hard tyre and used tyres all weekend,” he said.
“The bike was good. I pushed a lot in the middle part of the race to catch Dani and open up a gap to Maverick. I caught Dani and opened a good gap but the last 7-8 laps Dani was super. No way to follow him. So we couldn't fight for fourth place. Anyway the gap to the Hondas was short and with the Ducatis we were strong also. We are making progress.”
Comparing the Suzuki to the Honda, Espargaro explained: “We basically just have one problem, which we reconfirmed today. We are stronger in the fast corners, where the Honda spins a lot more. . The traction we have is good. The engine is very close. Dani is a very light rider, but on the straight he is not much faster than me.
“But they have a lot more grip than us in the slow corners. After we stop the bike, the first touch of the throttle our bike spins immediately so we lose a lot in acceleration. It is something mechanical for sure. So we have some ideas to try with Tom [in the Monday test] because Le Mans is the most demanding track in this area.”
Like Vinales, Espargaro is yet to confirm his 2017 plans.
By Peter McLaren